Kilkenny star Shelly Farrell is determined to ensure the Cats do not become one-hit wonders as they launch their bid for back-to-back National League and All-Ireland titles.
The Cats did the double last year, with their September final win over three-in-a-row chasing Cork marking Kilkenny’s first senior crown in 22 years.
Prior to that win, they had lost three finals in the space of seven years, but the return of 1994 All-Ireland-winning captain Ann Downey as manager inspired them to a famous victory over a Cork side that had been something of a bogey team for the Cats.
League glory acted as the launchpad for their All-Ireland success last season and Farrell believes the champions will have to work even harder to retain their titles as they prepare to kickstart their 2017 Littlewoods Ireland League campaign at home to Tipperary on Saturday.
“We know this year we have to put in a lot more effort to get as far as we did last year,” said Farrell. “Even from the start of the year we have been upping training a lot and the strength [and conditioning] has come in a lot this year, so I think we are working a lot harder.”
The Cats’ forward caught up with her club, Thomastown, in recent weeks before their All-Ireland club semi-final loss to Sarsfields. Despite her short break from action, Farrell insisted she will not be lacking for motivation as the season gets under way.
Kilkenny’s All-Ireland final win last season was particularly sweet for the Thomastown woman, who finished off a fantastic team goal en route to the four-point win over Cork, before celebrating the win alongside her sisters and team-mates Meighan and Anna.
“Just from last year winning it, that’s motivation enough,” she said. “You still have the buzz from last year and you know that it’s a new season and you kind of have to start from the beginning again and work your way up, do everything you did last year but even harder than last year and drive on.
“It was great to enjoy it with my sisters and hopefully they’ll be there again this year and hopefully we’ll all be playing together again. Everyone’s going to need to drive it on and up it a lot more than last year,” added the trainee accountant, who is also a sister of Kilkenny forward Jonjo — a two-time All-Ireland medallist as a squad member with Brian Cody’s Cats.
“He’s the only boy… surrounded by women,” laughed Shelly. “We’d always be encouraging each other, but we’d never be afraid to give out to each other about something — especially on the pitch playing with my sisters. We wouldn’t be afraid to tell each other something, but it’s good that we can be honest with each other.”
Looking ahead to this weekend’s clash, Farrell expects a tough opening test against Tipp. “They’re a very good team. Everyone’s getting a lot stronger and championship matches are getting tougher.”
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